Pittsburgh Steelers' wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster is set to become an unrestricted free agent after the conclusion of the 2020 season. While intriguing on the surface, the prospect of him landing with the Chicago Bears is a difficult one to fathom.
The more sensical move for general manager Ryan Pace to make is to sign current wide receiver Allen Robinson to a cap-friendly extension. However, the lack of negotiations in 2020 and the current state of the relationship between Pace and Robinson leads me to believe that the star wide receiver will be playing his 2021 season in different colors than orange and navy.
The Bears 2021 Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) Wide Receivers
Once the offseason officially commences, the Bears will likely be parting ways with UFAs Ted Ginn Jr., Allen Robinson, Cordarrelle Patterson, and of course quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. This will leave them with these receivers and their 2021 cap hits:
- Anthony Miller - $1.7 million (UFA 2022)
- Riley Ridley - $1.02 million (UFA 2023)
- Javon Wims - $944,000 (UFA 2022)
- Darnell Mooney - $850,000 (UFA 2024)
Ryan Pace will need to make a move or two in order to fill the hole created by losing bodies at the wide receiver position. It would be all too easy for Pace to use what draft capital he has on the position, but that does not help a Bears team that needs a reliable veteran receiver, which is what Robinson has been able to provide.
Bears 2021 Salary Cap
In 2021, the Bears do not have a lot of space when it comes to the salary cap. They have just over $4 million to work with and that is only with an estimated 32 players currently signed through the 2021 season. There is not much they can do to create space other than making trades for certain players or restructuring current contracts and extensions.
How Will They Create Space?
Kyle Fuller is the answer here. In 2021, Fuller carries an extreme $20 million in cap hit. After the 2021 season, Fuller will become an unrestricted free agent due to the option.
I propose that Pace signs Fuller, who deserves the money and respect, to an extension to stay in Chicago. If this can be done, Pace can restructure Fuller's contract to free up some salary-cap space.
The Pittsburgh Steelers 2021 Salary Situation
The Steelers are over $18 million negative for 2021. They also have rookie sensation Chase Claypool signed for $1.5 million, James Washington signed for $1.4 million, and Diontae Johnson signed for $1.16 million. The talent between the three of them alone leads me to believe that JuJu Smith-Schuster, who is a free agent in 2021, will be playing elsewhere. They do not need Smith-Schuster nor will they be able to afford what he's expected to be worth.
Currently, Smith-Schuster is estimated to have a market value of $15 million, which is about how much Allen Robinson is being paid now. If you take the $4 million in cap space for the 2021 Bears and add in the estimated $7-9 million freed up by a potential Fuller contract reconstruction, there is a possibility of making the logistics work. It would take a trade or more reconstruction of other current Bears' contracts to truly finalize something like this.
Akiem Hicks Free Agency
Bears' defensive tackle Akiem Hicks is 30 years old, he has a 2021 cap hit of $12 million, and he will become a free agent in 2022. The Bears should be very motivated to make sure Hicks retires as a member of the organization, and the best way to do that is to extend the man and negotiate his contract. They could potentially save a few million dollars per year with this move, which would increase the chance of bringing in veteran wide receiver talent like Smith-Schuster even more possible.
All contract and dollar information provided by Spotrac.com.